Lassoing A Bear: My First Art Critique

Coert Steynberg working on the Diaz-statue at ...

If I was a sculptor, but then again, no…(Image via Wikipedia)

Today, we will go together where I have never been. I ask you to join me in a special moment – my first venture into the field of art criticism.

Some might wonder what my qualifications are as an art critic. The truth is, I have no training in producing or assessing visual art. I have not taken an art class since 5th grade. The last piece of art I produced was a clay cup in that 5th grade class.

My mom still has that cup because she is my mom and not an art critic, like her son. Mom is great.

Hi, My Name Is Art

The painting that we will discuss today is a mural. The artist of this piece remains anonymous. He did sign the painting, but his signature is hidden behind a Health Department Score placard. Today’s subject is the mural behind the register of a diner near my office.

As you can see, the painting depicts several cowboys on their horses in the mountains. There are no cows around. Two of the cowboys are working together to lasso a bear.

Look at the horse of the cowboy on the left. Is that a horse, or is that famous Budweiser Spokesdog Spuds McKenzie?

I like the artist’s choice to depict the horse without a tail. He leaves the question for us to answer. Did the bear take the horses tail, or is this some sort of equine fashion choice? Any painter can create an accurate reproduction of a horse with all its anatomical features. Only a true visionary can use the missing tail as a metaphor for the disconnect between the social strata of our society.

On the other side of the painting we see the second cowboy, whose lasso is already around the bear’s ankle. This cowboy’s right leg is missing, replaced by an impractical and pointy prosthetic device. The artist is reaching out to our hearts and minds by choosing to depict this cowboy as an amputee.

Don’t we all want a fair shake for the handicapped? Here is a man who has lost a limb, perhaps in cotton gin accident back east. Despite his tragedy, he wants only an equal chance to earn a living. He finds that chance in a most unexpected place and he excels. I like the message this painting sends to the cowboy industry: on horseback, we are all the same height.

Grizzly Bear Anchorage Alaska

In the woods? Yes, every day. (Image via Wikipedia)

Now we move to the central character of the piece, the bear. The bear is rendered with a properly confused face. He is not really angry yet, just more stunned by being lassoed and pulled off balance. If he could speak, he would ask the question we all would like answered about this picture – why? Why lasso a bear?

And what of the two cowpokes depicted in the distance? They remain seated on their horses, but make no effort to help their comrades. Perhaps they are trying to determine why their friends think this is a good idea. The cowboy on the right has his arm extended. I’d like to think that he is looking up the number of the Society For The Prevention Of Cruelty To Animals on his cell phone, but we know from the period of the painting that this would not have been possible. Besides, up there in the mountains, you know the reception would be awful.

I can only conclude that these two distant cowboys are cowards. They see what is going on, but they make no effort to dissuade their friends or get help from someone who could put a stop to it. Blinded by loyalty, they are complicit in the act of those they associate with.

Tactical Analysis

My innovation in art criticism is the analysis of the tactics and strategy employed by the characters in the painting.

In this situation, the cowboys are involved in an unnecessary and cruel act. Why are they hassling this bear? There are no cows in the area to protect. There’s no point to what they’re doing.

It could be argued that the cows are not in the scope of the painting, but exist outside the plane of the work. So, if the bear was attacking the livestock these gentlemen were obliged to protect the cattle by the expectations of their employer, is lassoing the bear the best choice? Assuming the men get the bear lassoed, their options are limited. Perhaps the next step is tying the bear to a chair.

Finally, consider the trust level required between the cowboys to take on this task. If you and I were cowboys (cowpersons?) lassoing a bear, you are in a great deal of trouble if you lasso the bear and I miss. Is there anyone on the planet whose lasso skills you respect so highly that you could count on them as a bear roping teammate?


This painting is awful. Actually, it makes awful look good. Could I paint a horse better than the anonymous painter of “Roping A Bear”? No. But do I know a ridiculous exercise in acrylics when I see one – and this is exactly that.

I throw it open to you, my fellow art aficionados. Please assess “Lassoing A Bear”. What do you think? Does this painting need a broader audience, or a good going over with a paint roller?


51 Comments on “Lassoing A Bear: My First Art Critique”

  1. cr8df8 says:

    I think they are lassoing the bear because the last dude who tried to live with the bears RUINED it for everyone else.

  2. Snoring Dog Studio says:

    Was bear on the menu at that diner? Cuz that would explain A LOT. My eyes first went to the weather phenomenon in the foreground – cumulous clouds, I see. I imagine the artist was going for dust but must have run out of his or her brown paint.

    I support your art critique, and your right to do it, completely. I’m an artist. Typically, when I see godawful stuff, all I can do is sputter, PFFT! GACK! GRrrr! That is, unless I’m looking at an atrocity done by Thomas Kinkade. And then I black out.

    • omawarisan says:

      I was there on a professional visit, but they may have bear.

      See, the big difference between you and the person behind this thing is ability. The other difference is talent. Oh and vision. And…and…and..and

    • cr8df8 says:

      You said the “K” name.
      I had to read it.
      I am now permanently damaged and subsequently blinded by the light.

      P.S. I had exactly the same thought about the clouds on the ground.

  3. Hippie Cahier says:

    Thank you for this indepth analysis and food for thought to start my day(greek omelette).

    Let’s go back to Spuds. Look at the front leg. He appears to be part Fisher Price. What does it all mean??

    • omawarisan says:

      Thank you for your un feta-ed support of this new venture into art criticism.

      Fisher-Price Spuds horse. I think maybe the artist is encouraging us to hire handicapped animals as well.

      But it reminds me to get to work on my Fisher-Price business idea.

  4. Your critique is spot on, Oma, but how could we take a paint roller to such a masterpiece? In answer to your question about the first horse’s resemblance to Spuds McKenzie, it is actually an accurate depiction of Spuds’ great-great-great-great grandfather, Buds. What you might not know is that Buds was married to an Appaloosa, which eventually explains the spot over Spuds’ eye. There’s a whole lotta other explaining to do about that lineage, but, fortunately, any artwork that might have given us a clue was removed from the National Portrait Gallery. People were so relieved that it wasn’t deemed censorship and didn’t cause a scandal at all.

  5. Horsedonkeymulezebra says:

    I know this mural! But the place I saw it was a steakhouse. So either the steakhouse is now a diner, (the new owners opting to keep the quality artwork intact) or it is just one of a series! Pinch me!

    We’ll have to compare notes to see if we are talking about the same place.

    I’ve always been fascinated by the local fire department murals at Firehouse Subs. So far from my studies, I’ve found that each is a unique piece of art, but all equally bad.

    I’ll send you photos

    • omawarisan says:

      The place is called a steak house, but if I put a sign that says New York Pizza in front of the Hunan House, it is still a Chinese restaurant. It is likely the place youre thinking of…not far down the highway from your office, in the part of town where when you hit a red light you don’t stop.

  6. I think the bear took not only the horse’s tail but the cowboy’s leg as well, and they’re out for revenge!

  7. shoutabyss says:

    The diner only got a score of 90? I’d bear-ly eat there!

    I really appreciate the depth of your analysis here. You took the time so I wouldn’t have to!

  8. Pauline says:

    I took art history in university and paint part-time, so I have a definite opinion on this piece, but for the sake of being civil, I will say that this work is..uh..”interesting”. Yes, interesting!

    The best move would be to paint over the foreground (the background is pretty good), and try again with better cowboys and cows!
    Cows+cowboys=Makes sense to me!

  9. Kim Pugliano says:

    My first impression was that the bear was dancing unsuspectingly and had his leg up in a fancy move when he was lassoed. The expression on his face is shock because dancing threatens nobody.

  10. Laura says:

    I think the mural is pretty realistic, actually, except for one slight anachronism — the cowboy on the right is clearly using an ipad (you can see it on his lap). I would imagine he’s doing a search on “how to lasso a bear” or “bear or cow? how to tell”.

  11. You obviously have a great eye for art, an appreciation for subtle nuances and definitely should branch out into art criticism. I’m sure, however, that time and space restrictions prevented you from exploring some of the neo-marxist, post-freudian themes in this ouvre. Not to mention the overarching modernist angst that cries out from the anguished brush strokes. Clearly this picture is about class struggle. The bear represents the capitalist system. The cowboys are the proletariat, attempting to gain control of their lives, and the runaway system that keeps them in perpetual subjugation. The ill-advised futility of their efforts is shown symbolically (and with a nod to Freud) by the loss of the horse’s tail and the cowboy’s leg. Clearly, the artist is demonstrating the castrative effect of runaway capitalism on the working man.

    I look forward to your further analyses!

  12. What Tom said…and the painting sucks!


  13. Katybeth says:

    Awful. I am imagining the bear eating them all. Yum. Cowboy. Done. Better yet the bear should eat the artist. Is that to harsh? Well as As Fran Leboowitz might say, “not everyone should paint,” My 5th grade clay teacher smashed my clay pot because it was not good enough (no fooling)-which is why my son attends a Waldorf school. Instead of therapy I spend an outrageous amount of money on private school tuition so he can have a kinder, gentler education.
    Can, I also say my mom threw out my green egg cartoon worm. Thank you, I feel better.

  14. Todd Pack says:

    OMG, you don’t know what you’ve got here, do you? I’m 99% sure it’s a piece by the late 20th century folk art collective known as Mrs. Edna Selvage’s 3rd period art class. The cowboys roping the bear clearly represents the United States’ victory in the Cold War against the Soviet Union. Even in this crappy camera phone copy, it’s clear the horse on the right was airbrushed by “Nervous” Melvin McCoy, whose iconic series of airbrushed sunsets on plastic license plates are highly sought after by couples visiting Myrtle Beach, S.C.

  15. Sheesh. It’s grisly. What kind of town are you in? Don’t you have any graffitists? Or are they just lazy?

  16. dottiemaggie says:

    this made me laugh. i’m sick as anything, so thanks for that. i’ve heard laughter is the best medicine.
    I think that bear is definitely saying “w.t.f. mate?!”. because really, why would anyone lasso a bear? why would you GIVE the bear something to pull you closer with??? Even if buddy #2 is spot on with his lassoing, soon as that bear recovers from initial shock, pretty sure he can go “COME HERE!” with that one foot and our initial lassoer is dehorsed.

    I’m wondering if this mural is not a cautionary tale for the diner itself. Perhaps the painter was offered a free meal for his or her services, and opted to eat first, paint after. And this is the vision of ridiculousness he or she had after eating the food. Warning or promise, depends on how you look at it I guess… something in the mushroom soup perhaps…

    • omawarisan says:

      I agree completely on the bear reeling the cowboys in, what are they thinking?

      I’m not an art professional, but if they gave this guy some soup for this painting they overpaid!

  17. savanvleck says:

    I have seen some good murals on television and on the sides of buildings but, I do not remember, ever seeing a well done mural inside a restaurant.

    As a professional portrait artist and teacher, I have always believed that everyone has the ability to paint, enough to satisfy themselves. That does not mean they should do a massive mural for all the world to be forced to view in a restaurant.

  18. pattypunker says:

    those are some lame-ass cowboy hats. cleary an indication of talentless.

  19. linlah says:

    The two cowpokes in the background are Robert Duvall and Tommy Lee Jones and they are laughing their asses off.

  20. Here’s my take on the whole thing. The artist was attempting to capture the image of a bear that he witnessed stepping on a banana peel, and going ass over tea kettle. Unfortunately, when he showed the painting to his friends, they all laughed and told him no one would believe that it could have ever happened. They urged him to modify his painting so that he would not become the laughing stock of the art community. And so, reluctantly, he did…coming up with this cockamamey cover up story about two cowboys lassoing a bear…and the rest, as they say, is history…

    The vines add a nice Western touch too, don’t they?

  21. […] my first venture into art criticism, my foray into that field stopped. It wasn’t a lack of desire, it was that I could not find a […]

  22. Wendy says:

    I do not believe the first cowboy is an amputee. Rather, he has been caught in the act of dismounting, so he can run back and hog-tie the bear. Why anyone would do this is beyond the power of my not inconsiderable imagination. The prosthesis is actually a cornucopia. Obviously, anyone who would hog-tie a bear would not draw the line at carrying a cornucopia on his saddle. I suspect the bear represents California.
    Therefore, this is a painting about hurrying to California to eat Thanksgiving dinner. Or, it could be a depiction of the artist’s nightmare, which has now become ours.

  23. Lol.mYour blog is a valuable addition to my day. Signed up!

  24. I KNOW this is an old critique but hey .. I’m new here so my 2 cents worth is still worth 2 cents even with the current sequestration. They are old pennies.
    First things first. Your depiction of this painting sums up not only the immediate focus the artist was going for, but more so the esoteric vision of countless other artist who can’t pain worth a damn but instead rely on ‘critics’ to understand things like “metaphor for the disconnect between the social strata of our society” (AWESOME how You applied it though!) Whenever I hear/read things like that, I’m thinking … ahhh Picasso fan ….. drug addled Warhol fan who has NO understanding but doesn’t want to admit it so he/she writes a bunch of crap to make it sound like the rest of us aren’t smart enough to be ‘in the know’.
    But aside from all that, while I’ve definitely seen worse, I’d vote for the paint roller.

  25. Herb Swenson, Bear Lassoer says:

    Okay. It’s a bad painting. I get it. But why disparage a sport? I come from a short line of bear lassoers. We do it for the beauty of the sport, and one bad painting doesn’t bring my father back to life.

  26. Willierob says:

    LOL, a poor critique of a very bad attempt to copy a famous C. M. Russell original painting. Maybe we could take up a collection to get the diner a better muralist or even a print to hang in place of that sad attempt to copy one of the masters of western art.

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